WHITEFISH — Imagine you’re the kind of person who likes to drink local beer. Now imagine you’re this person and you’re smack-dab in the middle of a dark, cold winter, and perhaps you’ve got a little bit of cabin fever.
Taking all of that into consideration, what would you trade for a year’s supply of beer from the Great Northern Brewing Company?
That’ll be the big question the brewery asks during the upcoming Whitefish Winter Carnival, when after a five-year hiatus the famed Beer Barter returns on Feb. 2 ready to wow the community with the variety of talents and goods locals are willing to put on the line for a year of beer.
“We’re pretty stoked,” Niki Bates of Great Northern Brewing said. “It’s been five years and people are still excited about it.”
Whitefish Winter Carnival is a special time in the resort town, a time when for the last 60 years the community shakes off the ice and gathers in downtown Whitefish to celebrate winter. The main weekend of celebrations is Feb. 1 through Feb. 3, and includes a parade, Penguin Plunge in Whitefish Lake, costumed characters, and plenty of opportunity to socialize.
This year’s theme is Woodstock.
The Beer Barter began as a kickoff-to-summer event for the Great Northern Brewing Company, with the inaugural event on April 11, 2000. The brewery now says they know winter is a better time to host the event, but that first Beer Barter would set the tone for the years to come.
For starters, former Gov. Brian Schweitzer showed up with a dairy cow, while someone else brought a yak. The goal was to offer the best barter for the beer, whether that’s an actual object or animal you’re giving away or a talent you’re willing to perform on stage.
“The whole event is open-ended as far as entries go,” Bates said. “People do really obscure things, which we totally encourage.”
For example, one year, someone put $2.30 worth of change up their nose. Other years have brought two separate entries for VW buses, a fire dancer, worm eating, a year’s supply of green eggs and ham, and elaborate costumes, like when Tim Good of Last Chair dressed up as the guy on the Beer Barter poster.
The winner gets 52 cases of beer, which they can pick up all at once or spread out to pick up each week like a farming CSA, Bates said.
And, of course, the whole event takes place outside and in public on Central Avenue, after the parade. Traditionally, the brewery hosted the barter on Railway Street, but this year they’ve shifted to the main thoroughfare as part of their permit with the city to host the event.
Five years ago, the city of Whitefish denied the brewery’s permit over fears of open containers, underage drinking, and litter. Bates said the brewery has been trying to get the event back ever since, noting that while the barter is a favorite, the whole block is shut down for celebrations.
“It’s kind of like a block party; the whole block is shut down and it’s packed. It’s tough because it’s our event but that doesn’t mean it’s all of our cups on the ground,” Bates said.
This year, the city has granted a permit to allow the brewery to pour beer outside, so there will be a bar outside as well as inside. And following the barter, Great Northern Brewing will celebrate its 24th anniversary with a toast and a party.
The brewery will also offer collectible, 32-ounce stainless-steel Billy cans.
There will be plenty of recycling options for revelers, Bates said, and the brewery is committed to picking up the streets afterward. It’s all about being able to come together as a community, Bates said, and watching your friends and neighbors perform special talents is certainly a way to get to know them better.
“We’ve got a couple people signed up, but we’d like to get more entries,” Bates said.
To register for the Beer Barter, head to the brewery or www.GreatNorthernBrewing.com.